Feeling hammered by life? You may be right where God wants you to be

You and I are God’s handiwork.

God has given his Word on that in Ephesians 2:10.  When we accept the gift of faith in Jesus Christ as God’s grace toward us, he goes to work to change us. But what does it really mean and how does it work?

This short drama from The Skit Guys brings to life the concept of God working on us as we work out our salvation. If you are worn out from self-improvement that still falls short, self-effort that frustrates, self-help that doesn’t, here is a gift for your weary soul today.

It can be confusing and painful to submit to God’s chisel. But ultimately God’s correction comforts us. He chastens those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). He knows best what we need to be our best. The technical term is sanctification–God making us more like Jesus.

The skit has been around for a few years now, but I just saw it last week at church. It made a deep impression on my heart that has stayed with me through the week. My favorite exhchange is this one:

But God, I’ve let you down.

You don’t let me down. I hold you up.

How about you? Anything make a mark?

Leave a quick comment about what line resonates the most with you today.

[NOTE:  Please be kind. Although I’m linking to the youtube version, I took the step of purchasing before posting. The file is high-quality for playback in churches so I couldn’t upload it.  The workmen are worth their wage for this beautiful depiction portrayal of God’s truth.

God’s Chisel Remastered Video « The Skit Guys.

3 winning ways to pray–and the 1 prayer that cannot fail

Beyond our Miss America prayers

Photo by Brittney Borowski @ Lightstock

Photo by Brittney Borowski @ Lightstock

When my husband Bruce and I answered God’s call to jail and prison ministry, we seldom knew the charges or convictions of the incarcerated men and women we prayed with and for. Our motto was Listen, Listen, Love, Love.

So we were a bit shocked by a spontaneous confession one memorable night inside a county jail. We began our Bible study by asking what had drawn the women to attend the meeting. Mostly standard answers. But then one woman said, “I’m here because I’m a Christian. On the outside, I led a check-cashing ring. We would all go out to different stores at the same time and then later we’d split up the proceeds. I always prayed we wouldn’t get caught.”

Talk about a teachable moment. Without missing a beat, Bruce asked, “So, how’s that working out for you?”

A great discussion followed about prayer. While not an exhaustive list, here are three important things to consider as you offer your prayers:

1. Pray with confidence

Start with praise and thanksgiving for God’s attributes and graces toward us. This sets the stage for a confident hope that we are rightly approaching our holy God because of all that the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ has already accomplished for us (Hebrews 4:16).

Many of us have felt frustrated by a feeling that our prayers were “bouncing off the ceiling.” We’d prefer a bit of chastening or a loud resounding No to a painful and prolonged silence. But we can always pray with the confidence that God answers prayers (John 15:16) offered in the right spirit and with the right approach. And you don’t have to be involved in illegal activity to understand that even when he says, “No,” he always knows best. Sometimes if we are bent on self-destruction God in his goodness may grant us a wrong desire by “giving us over to it.” (Romans 1:24) This doesn’t imply endorsement on God’s part. God allows us free will to choose wrongly, while he also allows the suffering of the natural consequences of sin to teach us that his way is best.

2. Pray with humility

When I was a new believer I joined a prayer circle where a woman asked for prayer for her hair. She suffered alopecia. At the time I thought prayer was reserved For Emergencies Only so I scoffed in my heart. As soon as the thought appeared, though, the Holy Spirit called to mind Jesus’ words in Luke 12,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

I humbled myself. I prayed. Although the woman’s alopecia did not resolve, that faithful group of women prayed earnestly for my needs and I was hired to work in a television news room without a minute of experience as a reporter. God purely provided that job as a result of faithful prayer. I don’t want you to think I am special, or that you are not if your prayer has yet to be answered. But often, God will grant our requests in order to build up the weak faith of one in need. That’s a lesson I will never forget. God cares about everything which concerns us and consumes our attention. Don’t let pride prevent you asking the Lord for the help you need. As one friend says, “I’m quick to ask–there’s no shame in my game.” We all need God’s help and the help of praying friends.

3. Pray with the Spirit

I know and believe God cares about our illness and other passing circumstances, but I also want to go deeper. I want to move beyond the Daily Desperate litany of needs to experience what it is to pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18) and in power (2 Cor 10:4-5).

Our template is the Lord’s prayer. Jesus says to mention our personal daily concerns after we have acknowledged the supreme reign and worth of our heavenly Father and faith in the goodness of his plans for us and for our world now and in the age to come. It can seem daunting to muster the sincere compassion needed to pray for the world first and our needs after giving glory to God for his holy rule and reign. Although I have a few differences with the theology of the film Bruce Almighty, this scene portrays the truth that God understands and helps us in our struggle to pray unselfishly.

You can’t fake concern that isn’t in your heart. But somehow the more we pray the deepest needs, the more God comforts us in ways that take our prayers above and beyond the Miss America prayers we’ve all uttered out of a wrong sense of obligation.

So, let’s keep praying.

The more you allow God to quiet your heart, the more you will become aware of the Holy Spirit praying with you and for you (Romans 8:26-27), and so is our great high priest, Jesus Christ the Lord (Hebrews 7:25; 9:24)

Finally, there is one prayer that is guaranteed to be answered Yes by our heavenly Father.

Thy will be done.

Jesus taught us this prayer, and modeled it in his most pivotal prayer moment of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. To pray asking God for his will to be done in whatever concerns us is to pray with a Spirit-led heart fully confident and humble before God.

May it be so in your prayer life today.

3 hilarious prayer mistakes we all make

Resolved: to grow my roots deeper in prayer in 2014

Whenever I try to learn something significant my mind rebels. It almost becomes comical.

Maybe you’ve experienced this dynamic. I also resolved this year to eat healthy and suddenly junk food jumps out in the break room, drops in at a friend’s house, lands next to me while the healthy food takes the back seat home from the grocery store. Same with my prayers since I resolved to pray in a deeper way. I start on my knees but soon turn to ponder the treetops from the bedroom window, then my eye travels to the decor of the room, and the dust on the dresser. And then . . . chores!

But I’m determined. And so, even though my prayer life seems to have gone downhill a bit due to the renewed focus, I press on. As I do, I sense God’s pattern of first tearing down before he can build up. Phase One of building my prayer life is deconstructing some losing strategies in prayer:

1. Don’t be insincere

My prayer life often stalls because I haven’t acted on God’s direction. Ken Davis learned asking God to “send a sign” about something he already knew to be God’s will is a waste of time or worse. Testing God by asking for a sign may result in a test you never thought you’d be asked to endure. Testing prayer may deliver at your feet the very thing you dread the most. But what about Gideon? He set out a fleece not once, but three times. I see Gideon offering clarifying prayers once God had initiated a specific calling. That’s a good and wise way to pray–especially when God’s direction seems especially counterintuitive or dangerous.

2. Don’t perform

There is no right or wrong formula for prayer, but many of us freeze at the prospect of praying aloud with others. When we simply speak our desire to connect with God, listen, and obey, praying becomes an exercise of grace. Ben Stiller’s character started well when he got pressed to say a blessing before the meal in Meet the Parents. He went off the rails the more he pressured himself for embellishment and eloquence that so clearly eluded him all along. If you get nervous having your prayers overheard, remember prayer is always for an audience of One.

3. Don’t overpray

Jesus said, “Don’t heap up empty phrases.” I know he was talking about rote prayers uttered just for the sake of tradition. But haven’t we as his followers developed some new-but-just-as-empty phrases of our own?! Leave it to Tim Hawkins to skewer us in love on this one. Understand: No request is too small; praying trifles is preferred over indulging a worried heart (see Phil. 4: 4 – 7). I just need to remember to offer my supplications with praise and thanksgiving, not filler words and fluff. (Whooops–I just slipped in a just. Doh! Just did it again).

As God tears down the old, he reminds me again that self-effort in spiritual matters will always leave me frustrated. But Romans 8:20 tells me when God frustrates us, he wants something to die off in order to make way for a new and better hope in our hearts–a hope based in truth and for his glory. God works with us to improve the way we pray. He is willing to teach us to pray.

He cares about our prayers–quality and quantity. He takes our feeble effort and multiplies it for his glory.

So even if, like me, you’re feeling a bit defeated in your prayer life, let’s keep going. The biggest mistake we can make would be not to pray at all.

Next time: 3 winning ways to pray

The next best thing to a trip to Israel

Cradle My Heart Radio welcomes Bible scholar Wayne Stiles January 5th at 9 pm ET

Ah, Israel. The cradle of our faith. The place where Jesus walked.

The Pool at Bethsaida photo by Larry Kutzler

The Pool at Bethsaida photo by Larry Kutzler

One of the things I so love about our Lord is that Jesus was a master storyteller. We feel we can actually see the characters he so vividly renders in his teaching parables about widows and farmers and a prodigal and his family. But these imaginings can sometimes impede our knowledge that there were also real people who met Jesus and walked away forever changed. This distinction is so important–the ministry of Jesus is not just about his instructive teaching. We have a historical record to inspire and direct us still today. The pool pictured above is where Jesus miraculously instructed a lame man to pick up his mat and walk according to John 5:2-17

Knowing what Jesus accomplished there encourages my faith and makes me more confident to claim that even today, he still heals.

When I had the joy and privilege to travel to Israel

The Very Best Christian Books 2013

Here are some great last-minute gift ideas in case you missed the Evangelical Christian Press Association Book Awards:

ECPA Book of the Year finalists

I was deeply humbled to be a Finalist for the New Author award for Cradle My Heart, Finding God’s Love after Abortion. The ECPA was also generous to provide a free ebook Sampler of all the finalists. I am working my way through the list!

My two wish list picks are Love Does by Bob Goff and Glorious Ruin by Tullian Tchividjian. First I have to work my way through a great addition to my reference shelf and deeper study: David Gushee’s The Sacredness of Human Life.

What book made an impact on your heart this year? As you browse this list, what’s your top pick?

Leave a comment and we’ll enter your name in a drawing for the book from one of my favorite author interviews on Cradle My Heart Radio this year, Julie Ziglar Norman’s Growing up Ziglar.